Are Children at Risk?
Are children more vulnerable when exposed to electromagnetic radiation?
Children’s bodies are different to those of adults. The obvious difference is the rate of growth that a child experiences compared with an adult. The increased rate of growth means that cell division is occurring more rapidly which in turn means that a child is more prone to damaged cells replicating and spreading further in their body. This means that any possible health risks associated with exposure to electromagnetic radiation may be more severe within children and youths.
An additional consideration, specific to the use of mobile phones, is the ability of radiation to penetrate a child’s head. The bone in a child’s head is, as you would expect, much thinner than that of an adult. This provides less shielding and results in greater penetration of a child’s head. So, it makes sense that, the result of any biological effects that may occur due to sources of electromagnetic radiation such as mobile phone microwave radiation could be more severe amongst children. The Independent Expert Group on Mobile phones 2000 report states that ‘if there are currently unrecognised adverse health effects from the use of mobile phones, children may be more vulnerable because of their developing nervous system, the greater absorption of energy in the tissues of the head, and a longer lifetime of exposure (1).
Despite various reassurances that mobile phones are safe, a growing number of Governments and organisations are issuing warnings regarding the use of mobile phones by children due to the associated risks.
Who is concerned?
The European Parliament ‘s Resolution of 2 April 2009 on health concerns associated with electromagnetic fields identified that the reaction to microwave radiation will vary from person to person and that children exposed to EMF are especially vulnerable (2).
The European Environment Agency (EEA) made a number of recommendations in 2009 including “for governments, the mobile phone industry and the public to take all reasonable measures to reduce exposures to EMF, especially to radio frequencies from mobile phones, and particularly the exposures to children and young adults who seem to be most at risk from head tumours” (3) (4) (5).
The BioInitiative Report presents information and discussion regarding the science, public health and public policy associated with the growing health concerns due to exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) and radiofrequency radiation (RFR). It was conducted by the BioInitiative Working Group and is completely independent of governments and industry professional societies and hence provides a solid, evidence-based assessment (6). As well as highlighting a wide range of biological effects and possible health concerns, one chapter of the report presents evidence that demonstrates that children are more vulnerable (6).
On 14 April 2008 the Russian National Committee on Non- Ionising Radiation Protection released a document expressing their concerns regarding the potentially adverse influence of electromagnetic fields (EMF) from mobile phones, with particular concern regarding the effects on children (7). “The members of the RNCNIRP emphasize ultimate urgency to defend children’s health from the influence of the EMF of the mobile communication systems. We appeal to the government authorities, to the entire society to pay closest attention to this coming threat and to take adequate measures in order to prevent negative consequences to the future generation’s health” (7).
The Freiburger Appeal was signed by more than 1000 physicians (8) (9) and strongly recommends tighter restrictions on mobile phone use as well as a ban on the use of mobile phones by small children (10).
The international Doctors’ Appeal 2012 recognises that electromagnetic fields can cause adverse biological effects and recommends that special protection for children is provided: “children below the age of 8 should not use cell phones and cordless phones; children and adolescents between the ages 8 and 16 should also not use cell phones or only use them in the case of an emergency. Cell phone and online device advertisements must not be directed at children and adolescents, and these devices should not be used at schools” (10).
UK Government Advice
UK Chief Medical Officers advise that children and young people under 16 should be encouraged to use mobile phones for essential purposes only, and to keep calls short (11).
Do current regulations protect children?
Current regulations are based on a measure called Specific Absorption Rate (SAR). This is a measure of how much electromagnetic energy is absorbed by your body. There is growing debate regarding the effectiveness of this standard as a safety measure, with a number of organisations arguing that it is obsolete and void of any scientific value. The European Parliament has stated in 2008 that they believe the standard is obsolete and that the standards should be reconsidered immediately, especially to address the ‘vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, new born babies and children’ (12). The European Environment Agency (EEA) has also stated that the scientific basis for exposure standards should be reconsidered (5).
What research is being done on the effects on children?
The Mobi-kids project is an international study with the overall objective of assessing the potential link between the risk of brain tumors and environmental risk factors, including use of communication devices. The study is being conducted over a period of 5 years and includes approximately 3000 people aged 10 to 24 years old.
Results are expected to be released 2015/2016.
More information on the Mobi-kids study available here.
(1) Mobile Phones and Health (The Stewart Report) , 2000. Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP). Available at: <http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20101011032547/http:/www.iegmp.org.uk/report/text.htm>
(2) European Parliament, 2009. European Parliament resolution of 2 April 2009 on health concerns associated with electromagnetic fields (2008/2211(INI))”. [online]
Available at: <http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P6-TA-2009-0216+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN>
(3) Oberfeld, G., Precaution in Action – Global Public Health Advice Following BioInitiative 2007. In BioInitiative Working Group, Sage, C. and Carpenter, D. O. eds., 2012. A Rationale for Biologically Based Exposure Standards for Low-Intensity Electromagnetic Radiation [pdf] Available at: <http://www.bioinitiative.org/>
(4) Hardell, L., Carlberg, M., and Gee, D. 2013. 21 Mobile phone use and brain tumour risk: early warnings, early action? In: European Environment Agency, 2013. Late lessons from early warnings: science, precaution, innovation. Luxembourg: European Union. Available at: <http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/late-lessons-2/late-lessons-chapters/late-lessons-ii-chapter-21>
(5) EEA, 2007. Radiation risk from everyday devices assessed. [online] Available at: <http://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/radiation-risk-from-everyday-devices-assessed>
(6) BioInitiative Working Group, Sage, C. and Carpenter, D. O. eds., 2012. A Rationale for Biologically Based Exposure Standards for Low-Intensity Electromagnetic Radiation [pdf] Available
(7) Russian National Committee on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (RNCNIR), 2008. Children and Mobile Phones: The Health of the Following Generations is in Danger. [pdf] Available at: <http://www.radiationresearch.org/pdfs/rncnirp_children.pdf>
(8) Interdisciplinary Society for Environmental Medicine (IGUMED), 2012. Internationaler Ärzteappell 2012: zum Schutz von Mensch, Umwelt und Demorkratie Available
(9) Interdisciplinary Society for Environmental Medicine (IGUMED), 2012. International Doctors’ Appeal 2012: Radio-frequency Radiation Poses a Health Risk. Physicians Demand Overdue Precaution. [pdf] Available at: <http://freiburger-appell-2012.info/media/International_Doctors_Appeal_2012_Nov.pdf>
(10) Interdisciplinary Society for Environmental Medicine (IGUMED), 2002. Freiburger Appeal [pdf] Available at: <http://web.archive.org/web/20070930041008/http://www.emrnetwork.org/news/IGUMED_english.pdf>
(11) NHS Government Leaflet: Mobile Phones and Base Stations, Health Advice on using mobile phones. 2011. [Online] Available at: <https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/215711/dh_124899.pdf>
(12) European Parliament, 2008. Mid-term review of the
European Environment and Health Action Plan 2004-2010 (Final edition). [online] Available at: <http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&language=EN&